The Rude Game Hero
The voiceless game hero? He’s an ass.
Well, inadvertently. Have you ever noticed how a voiceless game hero fails to respond to mid-mission communications?
I recently finished Resistance on the PS3, and the game’s avatar, Nathan Hale, is a classic, cliche game hero with little to say and a lot to do. When he gets mid-mission updates, there’re always some stilted moments when the game writer has to wriggle around Hale’s inability to talk. “Hale, are you there? Anyhow, as I was saying….”
Needless to say, this isn’t a major objection to the voiceless game hero, but it is another missed opportunity for emotional connection in a medium (I shudder to say “art form”) that already sorely lacks connection.
Part of the problem is that in-game cinematics – the voiceless game hero’s lone venue to speak – have traditionally been expensive, pre-rendered cutscenes. They are almost always non-interactive, constrictive experiences that players hate to sit through. As games move to in-game cinematics rendered through the game’s own graphics engine, the costs can drop (although not always).
The Situational Chatterbox Game Hero
The Metal Gear series is an interesting special case to the silent game hero syndrome. Snake is quiet during the games, but truly epic quantities of backstory and narration take place in cutscenes and non-interactive radio communications. When Snake has some work to do, he’s as silent as night, but get him chatting to some cute support operative about cardboard boxes, crouched in a supply room in an enemy base, and the conversation goes about a thousand times as long as you’d ever expect. (Yes, cardboard boxes.)
Metal Gear games definitely tread that uneasy line between movie and game. The effect is well-documented: people either hate it or love it.
The Power of the Voice
It is a shame that the prototypical game hero has nothing to say. He can’t trace much of a character arc, and we don’t find out why he’s willing to risk it all over and over again. He’s just a shell of a person, really.
In that respect, movies once again have cultural primacy over games. We often don’t get to know the game hero, and that’d be a huge failure for a movie. Would you enjoy movies if 90% of them featured nearly mute protagonists? Can games be considered an art form if game developers can’t draw a decent portrait of a protagonist?
Again, game designers are dramatically losing the battle to rival the emotional punch wielded routinely by screenwriters. Your typical half-hour episode of “30 Rock” packs more resonance and character than the entire 20-hour slog through Gears of War or Resistance.
Does that sound like an exaggeration? Well, let’s try some trivia questions:
1) Why is Marcus Fenix in prison at the start of Gears of War?
2) Who gives the orders to Fenix and Delta Squad?
3) What’s Kenneth the Page’s hometown?
4) Who gives the orders at 30 Rock?
Yeah, I had to wikipedia all those Gears of War answers too.
Will Adventure Games Rival Adventure Movies?
It’s really the adventure video game genre that does the best at connecting players with a rewarding narrative journey. Games like The Longest Journey and Grim Fandango are well-known for their humor, characters, and plotlines.
On the other hand, the adventure genre has long been a niche gaming genre that left some of our twitchier game-playing brethren cold. Technology may yet come to the rescue, though. Newer action/adventure titles like God of War and Uncharted 2 are proving that an epic storyline can be paired successfully with addictive, responsive gameplay.